351 U.S. 277 (1956), 489, Durley v. Mayo

Docket Nº:No. 489
Citation:351 U.S. 277, 76 S.Ct. 806, 100 L.Ed. 1178
Party Name:Durley v. Mayo
Case Date:June 04, 1956
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 277

351 U.S. 277 (1956)

76 S.Ct. 806, 100 L.Ed. 1178

Durley

v.

Mayo

No. 489

United States Supreme Court

June 4, 1956

        Argued April 2, 1956

        CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA

        Syllabus

        Upon reviewing the decision of the Supreme Court of Florida denying, without opinion, petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which he claimed, inter alia, that his state conviction and imprisonment for stealing cattle violated the Federal Constitution, it appeared that the judgment of that Court might have rested on one or both of two adequate state grounds.

        Held: the case is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Pp. 278-285.

        (a) Where the highest court of a State delivers no opinion and it appears that its judgment might have rested on a nonfederal ground, this Court will not take jurisdiction to review the judgment. Stembridge v. Georgia, 343 U.S. 541. Pp. 281-282.

        (b) The Supreme Court of Florida might have rested its denial of the petition here involved on either or both of the following grounds: (1) that the several federal issues presented by it had been raised previously within the meaning of Fla.Stat.Ann., 1943, § 79.10, and therefore could not be raised again under state practice; (2) that they could have been raised in the prior proceedings and, accordingly, were not available as a matter of state law under Florida decisions. Pp. 282-284.

        (c) There is nothing in the order of the Supreme Court of Florida to show that that Court must have decided the case on federal grounds, rather than on the readily available and substantial state grounds. Pp. 284-285.

        Case dismissed.

Page 278

        BURTON, J., lead opinion

        MR. JUSTICE BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

        In this case, our jurisdiction is questioned by the State of Florida because the judgment of the Supreme Court of that State, which we are asked to review and which was rendered without opinion, may have rested upon an adequate state ground. For the reasons hereafter stated, we find that to be true, with the result that we have no jurisdiction to entertain this petition or to consider the merits of the federal questions suggested by petitioner. While we thus deem petitioner's allegations of fact as to the merits of this case to be irrelevant here, we imply nothing as to their truth or falsity, and we refrain from any discussion that depends upon or assumes their truth.

       In 1945, petitioner Durley was convicted by a jury in the Criminal Court of Record for Polk County, Florida, on two informations. In each, he was charged, in three counts, with stealing cattle.1 In the first count of the first information, it was charged that, on July 7, 1945, petitioner, with two others, stole two steers from a Mrs. Bronson; in the second count, two cows; and in the third count, one heifer. The three counts of the other information charged that the same men, on July 29, 1945, stole from a Mr. Zipperer a cow and two heifers, each of the animals allegedly stolen being the subject of a separate count. Petitioner was sentenced [76 S.Ct. 808] to serve five years' imprisonment on each count, the terms to be served consecutively, thus making a total of 30 years.

        Petitioner did not appeal from his conviction but, in 1949, labeling his petition a writ of error coram nobis, he,

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pro se, unsuccessfully sought relief. In the same year, also pro se, he filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Florida claiming that he was confined in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the Federal Constitution because he had been tried on informations, rather than on indictments, that the verdict rested on perjured testimony,2 and that he had been denied a hearing on his petition for a writ of error coram nobis. This petition for habeas corpus was denied by the Supreme Court of Florida, without opinion, on the ground that petitioner failed to show probable cause that he was held without lawful authority.

        In 1952, with the aid of court-appointed counsel, petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in a Florida Circuit Court. There, he claimed that the informations upon which he had been convicted charged the commission of only two, rather than six, offenses, and that he already had served sufficient time to satisfy a ten-year sentence, which would have been the maximum sentence permissible for two such offenses. Petitioner also charged that his imprisonment was in violation of his rights under the Constitution of the United States. A writ was issued, a return was filed, and the court heard argument of counsel for each side. The writ was quashed. Petitioner appealed to the Supreme Court of Florida, where his appeal was dismissed without opinion.

        In 1955, petitioner, again pro se, instituted the present proceeding by filing in the Supreme Court of Florida another petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In it, he claimed, inter alia, that his detention was an "abuse of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States . . . ," and that his consecutive

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sentences not only violated the Federal and State Constitutions, but were contrary to a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Florida, citing Hearn v. State, 55 So.2d 559. That petition was argued in the Supreme Court of Florida by counsel for the State, although neither petitioner nor his counsel was present. The petition was denied without opinion, again on the ground that petitioner failed to show probable cause that he was held without lawful authority.

        A rehearing was denied, but petitioner's application for a writ of certiorari was granted by this Court, 350 U.S. 872, and counsel was appointed by this Court to represent him here, 350 U.S. 900. The case was fully briefed and argued on the jurisdictional issue as well as on the merits.

        The State of Florida has objected consistently to our entertaining jurisdiction of this proceeding. Its reason is that the Florida Supreme Court's denial of the 1955 petition for a writ of habeas corpus may have rested upon one or both of two adequate state grounds. Those grounds are (1) that, under Florida law, the issues presented in 1955 already had been rendered res judicata by the 1952 litigation, and (2) that, in any event, petitioner was precluded from raising the federal issues presented in 1955 because he had failed to raise then in comparable prior proceedings where he had a fair and adequate opportunity to do so.

       The State's claim as to res judicata rests primarily upon Fla.Stat.Ann. 1943., § 79.10, which provides that, while a judgment denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus remains in force, no person [76 S.Ct. 809]

shall be at liberty to obtain another habeas corpus for the same cause, or by any other proceeding to bring the same matter again in question except by a writ of error or by action of false imprisonment. . . .

Page 281

        Florida's other state ground is based upon its Supreme Court decisions, and particularly upon Washington v. Mayo, 77 So.2d 620, 621. It is there stated that

The rule is clear that a convicted prisoner should not be heard to raise in a subsequent proceeding, whatever its nature, issues that were previously raised and determined, or that the prisoner had a fair and adequate opportunity to raise and have determined in earlier proceedings.

        In the face of these expressions of the law of Florida, petitioner, in order to establish our jurisdiction, must demonstrate that neither of these state grounds can account for the decision below.

Where the highest court of the state delivers no opinion and it appears that the judgment might have rested upon a nonfederal ground, this Court will not take jurisdiction to review the judgment.

        Stembridge v. Georgia, 343 U.S. 541, 547.

It is a well established principle of this Court that, before we will review a decision of a state court, it must affirmatively appear from the record that the federal question was presented to the highest court of the State having jurisdiction and that its decision of the federal question was necessary to its determination of the cause. Honeyman v. Hanan, 300 U.S. 14, 18; Lynch v. New York, 293 U.S. 52. And where the decision of the state court might have been either on a state ground or on a federal ground, and the state ground is sufficient to sustain the judgment, the Court will not undertake to review it. Klinger v. Missouri, 13 Wall. 257, 263; Wood Mowing & Reaping Machine Co. v. Skinner, 139 U.S. 293, 297; Allen v. Arguimbau, 198 U.S. 149, 154-155; Lynch v. New York, supra. . . . But it is likewise well settled that, if the independent [state] ground was not a substantial or sufficient one, "it will be presumed that the State court based its judgment on the law

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raising the Federal question, and this court will then take jurisdiction." Klinger v. Missouri, supra, 13 Wall. at 263; Johnson v. Risk, 137 U.S. 300, 307; Lawrence v. State Tax Commission, 286 U.S. 276, 282-283.

        Williams v. Kaiser, 323 U.S. 471, 477-478.

        While the federal questions relied upon by petitioner in 1955 are not set forth by him as clearly as they might be, we do not rely upon that inadequacy.3

       [76 S.Ct. 810] Petitioner argues that § 79.10 does not embody the traditionally broad doctrine of res judicata. He suggests that the statute bars only the relitigation of questions and matters that have been specifically presented and decided. By thus construing § 79.10, he argues that none of the precise federal issues raised in the 1955 petition were sufficiently raised and considered under his previous petitions. However, the Supreme Court of Florida has treated § 79.10 as applying...

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